This post is for Mika Lappalainen and Satu Palosaaren of Palosaari reindeer and fishing farm in Kuusamo Finland. Thank you for sharing your reindeer and lives with us down south in the UK. It has been an amazing opprtunity to learn about your reindeer and life on the Arctic circle landscape.

Following my 2018 winter visit to Kuusamo in Finland, I seized upon the opportunity to develop communication between a Finnish reindeer herding family and our school children. At the heart of the learning was my goal to nurture an empathy for a semi-domesticated Arctic reindeer, to observe how he grows, lives with his herd and find out what exactly do reindeer do all year round? Reindeer are far removed from our lives in the UK until they fly to the forefront of our Christmas festivities! As Nature Citizens, we wanted to understand more about their own Arctic life. We adopted Brave Hart.

It has been a generous exchange of information. Here are just a few highlights from Brave Hart’s first seven months.

Brave Hart is a few days old. He was born in May 2019. We wrote questions for the reindeer herders because we really had no knowledge about what reindeers eat, do or want. We decided on the name Brave Hart because he looked a bit fierce with the stripes on his head and also the ice cold temperatures would mean he had to be Brave! Hart is the old English word for deer – so it seemed a good choice.

Did you know that reindeer survived the Ice Age when other mammals didn’t?  That makes reindeer more than 11,000 years old.

We learnt how their bodies are perfectly adapted to the plunging temperatures of minus 25 or more!

 

Communication was helped with Skype because we could see the reindeer and talk to the herders. It was magical to be transported to their world through technology. We saw how a baby reindeer could run after his mum at only a few days old. It was amazing.

Brave Hart ate snow to get a drink. We watched how he copied his mum and stayed close to her. She was very protective and would get quite agitated if another reindeer got to close. Her antlers looked fierce!

When Brave Hart was born, he weighed 6kg and could quickly stand up on his legs. His back legs were  longer than the front legs which meant Brave Hart had to be careful when walking not to trip up and hit his nose on the ground.  We saw that his best activity was running after mum in the enclosure. Run he must because in the wild predators like wolverines, arctic foxes, and bears must not catch up!  The brown and white baby fur keeps Brave Hart camouflaged in the wild too, and it is perfectly warm enough for the spring weather. We love Brave Hart!

Would he survive the summer?

Baby reindeer are mammals and all mammals love milk. It’s a creamy and filling drink.  By day five of Brave Hart’s life he can begin to eat moss, leaves, and nibble at delicious lichen which is a bit like eating chocolate. The herder went away in his truck and came back with a huge pile of snow for drinking, as you can see in the photo above.

In the spring there will be delicious grasses, wildflowers, and mushrooms to eat when the herder opens the gate and they are finally free to roam in the wild.  By the end of the summer Brave Hart will be 50kg and fat enough to get through the winter because food is scarce then. Reindeer have to grow a summer coat, moult it for a winter one, and then the  first antlers will appear. Exciting to watch!

We knew that Brave Hart would eventually be released to the wild. There were many dangers ahead and these were discussed with the children because they had to be prepared for anything to happen. It was an important and sensible discusssion that touched upon real life issues for semi-wild animals, and the conversation was in a context they could feel safe in.

The farm gate is open and the reindeer are free to roam. Brave Hart follows the others. Very soon they find the rest of the herd and move together all summer. The herders keep track of the herd using GPS collars on the mothers. We occasionally received map locations of where they had travelled to.  The children thought this was all good news.

This is the last photo of Brave Hart with his mum in November 2019. He returned to the farm and was soon seperated from her to join the calves. He has GROWN!

December 2019: Brave Hart with his beautiful coat and antlers. He appears used to human handling and is enjoying an offering of lichen.

From the Nature Citizens:

Brave Hart is seven months old now and we have loved being informed about his life. We are amazed at the care and attention given to all the reindeer. They are truly valued by you and in return they voluntarily make their way to your farm and want to join in with meeting visitors. To watch a real Arctic creature in its own landscape is an authentic and memorable experience for life. We were so excited for news about Brave Hart. We hope to continue this learning with Brave Hart. We have many different questions for you now that he is a bigger reindeer. What will happen next?!

Our Nature Citizens wall display about Brave Hart.

For more information about the reindeer see: https://www.palosaarenporotila.fi/en/